The First Stone

by Don Aker
ISBN: 0006392857

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A Review of: The First Stone
by Heather Birrell

The First Stone is a page-turner of a morality tale set in a fictionalized Halifax. It follows Reef and Leeza, two very different sixteen-year-olds, through their roles in a highway "accident", and its attendant frustrations and despair. Reef's past catches up with him when he angrily pitches a rock off an overpass and it shatters the windshield of a motorist below. The motorist is, of course, the innocent Leeza, and Reef's act winds up not only changing the two teenagers' fates, but binding them in significant ways. Reef, thanks to the decision of a compassionate judge, finds himself in a group home with a motley crew of delinquents on the rocky road to reform (and separated from his old buddies and their common history of abuse and neglect). Leeza, whose injuries from the accident have left her in excruciating pain and understandably depressed, ends up in a physical rehab centre with the spunky, wheelchair-bound Brett as roommate.
The narrative althernates between the two teens, switching perspective from chapter to chapter, which makes for gripping pacing and a variety in perspective. For the most part, Aker's characterizations serve him well, although there are moments where an unnecessary affectedness creeps into the prose, as when the narrator repeatedly refers to Reef or Leeza as "the teenager"-an odd and obvious construction which may strike sophisticated readers as patronizing.
As part of his re-integration into society, Reef is required to volunteer at a physical rehab centre, where it is hoped he will build his powers of empathy and recognize the consequences of his actions. In a coincidence that perhaps serves the author's purpose too conveniently, Reef is paired with Leeza, and the two become fast friends, finding commonality and closeness despite their very dissimilar backgrounds. Here we have the perfect paradigm for Reef's realization and the author's message: We are all responsible for our actions-actions that can create ripples, even shock waves in the lives of others. In the end, Aker sidesteps this blatant coincidence by having his characters acknowledge it, a gambit that may appeal to a pre-teen's sense of melodrama. Despite its occasional heavy-handedness and structural stiltedness, however, this is a YA novel with its heart in the right place.

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